The Billionaire's Christmas (A Sinclair Novella) (2 page)

BOOK: The Billionaire's Christmas (A Sinclair Novella)
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It’s my fault. I’m the director. I should have watched him closer, not ever left him alone in my office.

Paul had completely duped her, and she’d stupidly fallen for his con job. The bastard! He’d been in to visit her here at the Center two days ago. She’d had an emergency with one of the kids playing basketball and left him alone for a while in her office. The next day he was gone, and the business account was empty. She’d allowed Paul complete access to the account by rushing away from her desk while the bank account was open on her computer, the password already entered so she could review the accounts.

“It’s not your fault,” Randi told her soothingly, plopping her jeans-clad butt into the chair in front of the desk. “You had no way of predicting this would happen.”

“He always said all the right things, but his compliments were a little contrived, and he seemed nervous and uptight the last time I saw him. I don’t know, he just seemed distracted and edgy, but I blew it off as him having a bad day. I should have noticed something wasn’t quite right.” Emily eyed her petite, dark-haired friend warily, wondering if Randi would have been stupid enough to fall for Paul’s smooth lines. Probably not! “No matter whose fault it is, I have to fix this. The Center could go under. And we definitely won’t have any funds to buy Christmas presents and food this year for the annual party. The gift from us is the only thing some of these kids get every Christmas.” Emily’s heart sank to her feet, guilt squeezing at her chest. “I can’t let the kids down. I can’t let the community down.”

Amesport was a small coastal town, but the population of kids who needed this youth center was fairly substantial because of all of the surrounding villages. Losing the Center would be a tough blow to the whole town and the surrounding communities.

Randi rolled her eyes. “So you’re just going to walk up to Grady Sinclair’s door and ask for money?”

“That’s the plan, yes. We can get small donations from the community, but we’re missing the whole operating budget for the rest of the year. There’s no way to fix this other than to receive a huge donation,” Emily replied, sighing as she laid her head down on the desk with her arms underneath it for support, tears of anger and frustration finally escaping from her eyes. “And I don’t have the funds to replace it myself.”

“I wish I had it to give to you, but I don’t have that kind of money lying around either,” Randi replied wistfully. “He won’t give you the money, so I think you should save yourself the humiliation of asking. Grady Sinclair isn’t exactly known for his kindness and generosity. Maybe one of the other Sinclairs—”

“He’s the only one in residence. The others are all out of town,” Emily replied glumly, aware that the rest of the family, who all had homes on the Amesport Peninsula, were unavailable. She’d already checked. The last thing she really wanted to do was to approach a man who was known for being rude, antisocial, and condescending. But he was the only Sinclair available. So, beast or not, she was asking. Honestly, she probably deserved to have the guy slam the door in her face. This was entirely her fault, even though the police had already told her that this exact same scenario had occurred in several businesses in Maine in the last several months, but they hadn’t yet been able to nail the perpetrator. Still, had she not been so completely charmed by Paul’s flattering attention, the future of the YCOA wouldn’t be in jeopardy.

Men who look like him don’t exactly fall all over me. I should have been suspicious! Paul used his looks and charm to bowl me over, and it worked because I’m not used to that kind of male attention.

She was tall, her figure too round, and her long blonde hair was usually scraped back into a ponytail. The old pair of glasses perched on her nose didn’t help improve on her blandness, and she wore very little makeup because most of it irritated her skin. She had a tendency to just blend into the woodwork, and men usually made her a buddy rather than a girlfriend.

“Don’t cry over Paul. So what if he was attractive? He’s a thief and he’s definitely not worth it. I’d castrate the bastard if I could find him,” Randi said vehemently. “You obviously weren’t his first victim, but I’d certainly like to make sure you were his last.”

Lifting her head, Emily swiped at the tears on her face. “I’m not upset about
him
. We only dated for a few weeks, and I obviously didn’t even know him. But the kids—”

“The kids will survive, and we’ll think of something.”

The Youth Center was the heart of the town of Amesport. Not only was the sprawling old brick building a refuge for kids of all ages who needed some support and attention, but it was the place where everything important happened, from wedding receptions to weekly events for the senior citizens in the community. Everything good that took place in town happened here, and Emily would be damned if she’d let the community down by letting the Center go under. The people in this town, from the very young to the elderly, needed this gathering place and the activities and services it offered. She hadn’t returned to Amesport only to end up destroying the very Center that she herself had used when she was younger.

Amesport had always been
home
to Emily. The only time she had been away was to attend college in California. She’d stayed there for a while after graduation, trying to climb the corporate ladder, before finally realizing that she really didn’t give a damn whether or not she reached the top.

As the finance manager of a large charitable corporation, Emily had thought she’d feel good about her job, enjoy working in an environment where helping people came first. Unfortunately, helping people hadn’t really been the first thing on the management’s agenda, and she hadn’t felt good about working for the corporation at all. It had ended up being no different from working for a profitable corporation, the dynamics exactly the same. Sadly, the management had been more interested in politics and kissing up to the right people to get their next promotion than helping anyone.

When her mom had told her the previous director of the Center had retired, Emily had come back home to stay. It had been comforting that very little had changed during her absence, except for the fact that the Sinclair siblings had all decided to finally claim the peninsula outside of town, land that had been in their family for generations. Grady had been the first to build his home there, with all of the other members of the family putting up their own houses after his was completed. As far as she knew, Grady Sinclair was the only full-time resident on the peninsula, but all five of them had houses there, homes that usually sat empty.

“I have to do something,” Emily whispered to herself desperately, standing and pulling on her bright red jacket.

“I hear he eats women and small children as snacks,” Randi warned her ominously, her lips curving into a small smirk.

Emily smoothed the jacket over her generous hips and retorted, “I think I’d make a decent lunch.” Unlike her petite friend, Emily was far from small, and she’d probably make an adequate meal, even for a beast.

She had been back in Amesport and running the YCOA for over a year, but hadn’t once encountered a single member of the Sinclair family. Apparently, most of the family was either constantly traveling or lived elsewhere, using their houses here in Maine strictly as vacation homes. Grady Sinclair was rarely spotted in town, but his few not-so-friendly interactions with the locals had labeled him as a complete jerk. Residents here in Amesport weren’t accustomed to people being less than polite and friendly; almost anyone in town was more than willing to yack and gossip with a new arrival. Apparently, Grady Sinclair wasn’t exactly the amiable type, and Emily wondered why he had ever moved here to Amesport. The Sinclairs were from Boston. Sure, they had land here. But then, they owned real estate just about everywhere.

Randi stood, her smirk replaced by a look of concern as she asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I’m doing it,” Emily answered confidently as she scooped up her purse. “How bad can he be?”

Randi shrugged. “I’ve actually never met him either. But from what I’ve heard, he’s like the devil incarnate.”

Emily rolled her eyes. “Thanks. That’s comforting.”

Randi grabbed Emily’s arm as she made her way to the door and hugged her. “Be careful. Do you want me to go with you?”

Emily was touched that Randi was willing to go confront the beast with her, and she gratefully hugged her friend back. As she released her, she replied, “No. But can you watch over the Center for me? Most of the kids are gone for the evening because there’s a storm coming in, but there’s a bingo game going on in the recreation hall.”

Randi nodded and smiled. “I’ll wander over there and lock up when everyone is gone. They usually have good snacks.”

Emily gave Randi a mock frown, wishing she had her friend’s metabolism and fondness for physical activities. Randi could eat like a horse and never gain an ounce. “Watch yourself. Those ladies get dangerous if you try to swipe too many of their chicken wings,” Emily replied with a laugh.

Amused, Randi quipped, “They’ll never see me coming or going. I’m an expert at stealing food.”

Emily knew Randi meant the comment as a joke, but she knew her friend’s background, and didn’t doubt there was some real truth in Randi’s statement.

“Thanks,” Emily told her friend quietly.

Randi gave her a mock salute and a grin as she walked off toward the recreation room.

Emily sighed heavily as she made her way to the exit door, trying not to cringe at the thought of approaching Grady Sinclair. She’d gone up against some intimidating men during her time in California. Sure, he was a billionaire, but he was just a man, right? No different from any other rich guy she’d encountered in her corporate job.

It was dark and snowing as she drove her ancient truck toward the peninsula, knowing it was way past time for new tires, but they weren’t really in her budget. Honestly, she bought very little unless it was a necessity. With the cost of paying back student loans, and the low salary she was receiving for her current job, almost everything was beyond her means. She could make more money with her business degree somewhere else, but she’d rather do without than go back into corporate business. She just didn’t have the killer instinct to move up the corporate ladder while she was taking someone else down to get there. All she really wanted was to be in a job where she could do something good. And she’d found that at the Center. Unfortunately, she’d made the mistake of dating the wrong guy, which was the story of her life. Granted, the money he’d made off with hadn’t been a fortune, but it was a lot to her, money she just didn’t have to replace. It was the funds for the expenses of the Center for December, and all the money that had been raised throughout the year for the Christmas festivities. And the sum was way more than she could afford, or hope to get in donations.

“Fat chance the police will have any luck,” Emily muttered to herself as she pulled up to the gate that blocked the road to the peninsula. Paul had disappeared as though he had never existed. The police had investigated, but had very little information. Paul probably wasn’t even his real name, and he had done this several times before without being caught—if the similar incidents were done by the same man.

Swallowing hard, she stared at the massive metal gate in front of her, wondering how she was going to actually get through it, when the decorative doors started to swing open soundlessly.

It’s not locked or guarded. It’s motion operated.

Okay.
That
surprised her. In fact, it took her a moment to even give the truck some gas to enter through the open gate. When she finally came out of her perplexed trance, she gunned the engine, making the back end of the truck fishtail on her bald tires. She straightened her vehicle up and kept going. The snow was coming down heavier, a sloppy, wet snow with high winds that signaled an incoming nor’easter.

What did I expect? A guarded fortress?

But yeah, actually, she had assumed there would be some sort of barrier between the ultrarich Sinclair family and the rest of the world. Even though the peninsula wasn’t that large, the Sinclairs owned the entire cape, and the road was private. To be allowed to enter just by driving up to the gate
was
a surprise. When she was a child, the projecting mass of land had sat empty, and she had ignored the No Trespassing signs more times than she could remember to sit out on one of the shorelines, her very favorite spot on the headland.

My favorite place is in the exact same spot where Grady Sinclair built his house.

Emily couldn’t see well, but she squinted into the swirling snow and pushed her glasses back up onto the bridge of her nose. Passing several private driveways, she kept on going, knowing Grady’s home was the very last one.

The road ended at his house, and Emily forged ahead, parking her truck in the circular driveway and turning off the engine.

I must be insane!

Before she had time to think about what she was doing and leave, Emily grabbed her purse and slammed the door of the truck closed. Glad she was dressed in a sweater and jeans for the weather, she just wished she were also wearing a pair of boots, her sneakers slipping and sliding in the fresh, wet snow.

The house was massive, and she gaped at the heavy oak doors in front of her, wanting to run away as fast as her slippery shoes would take her.

“What kind of single guy owns a house this humungous?” she whispered in awe.

Answering herself, she said, “A man who has enough money to donate to the Youth Center.”

With that thought in mind, she strode determinedly forward and pressed the doorbell harder than she needed to, causing her feet to slide out from under her and her body to land ungracefully in a heap on Grady Sinclair’s doorstep.

That was a fabulous and graceful entrance, Emily. Impress him with your professionalism.

Disgusted with herself, she scrambled for purchase on the icy stone porch, hastily trying to get to her feet before he answered the door, but she slid again and landed flat on her rear end, flinching as her tailbone hit the unyielding surface. “Damn!”

BOOK: The Billionaire's Christmas (A Sinclair Novella)
5.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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